HotelsThe 11-key Roka on the island of Naoshima was birthed from the illusion of dragons undulating in the mist.

Of fire and mist: The luxury ryokan inspired by dragons

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The ryokan also doubles up as an art gallery where art lovers can meet Japan’s burgeoning artists.
The ryokan also doubles up as an art gallery where art lovers can meet Japan’s burgeoning artists.

Who would have ever thought that dragons would point the way forward for a fourth-generation hotelier’s journey?

When Shintaro Sasaki hiked up a hill while visiting the island of Naoshima, he beheld a magnificent sight — clouds of mist looming over a lake that seemed to take the form of two flying dragons. Sasaki took it as a divine sign that this island is where his family legacy will continue to unfold.

That illusion gave rise to Roka, a traditional Japanese inn (ryokan) accentuated with the luxuries of the modern world, which opened in Naoshima in April this year.

Just as Naoshima is an island insteeped with art and famously known to house Yayoi Kusama’s yellow polka-dotted pumpkin sculpture for three decades, Roka is a luxury Japanese inn that embraces the island’s rich art culture.

The ryokan doubles up as an art gallery and an incubator for emerging artists, alongside serving as a nightlife venue for art lovers and collectors to come together. Some of these artists’ pieces have also been selected to be featured around the hotel, which are available for guests to purchase.

Suites feature traditional Japanese furnishings mixed with modern features.
Suites feature traditional Japanese furnishings mixed with modern features.

Beyond taking inspiration from dragons in the mist to showcasing unseen talents on this secluded island, Sasaki says that his vision for Roka is to “create a new world where guests can experience renewal and rediscover the simple joys of life, free from the stresses and burdens of their personal lives”.

Roka houses just 11 guest residences featuring three types of suites. The most expansive and luxurious of them all is the Roka Suite which encompasses 106sqm of space featuring a kitchen, a bar, a 12-mat living room, a dining area for six, and a semi-outdoor bathing area equipped with a large cypress bathtub spanning 2.5sqm.

A stay at Roka comes inclusive of lunch and dinner at the in-house restaurant EN. The six-person culinary team presides over the curation of modern kaiseki and multi-course feasts with seasonal ingredients procured fresh from around the region daily, such as seafood from the Seto Inland Sea, Nagi Wagyu Beef from northern Okayama and olive Wagyu from Shodoshima. The restaurant can also prepare Japanese-style breakfasts for guests.

Dishes prepared at Roka’s restaurants and café comprise 90% of locally sourced ingredients from the Kagawa Prefecture, right down to the miso, salt, and soy sauce.
Dishes prepared at Roka’s restaurants and café comprise 90% of locally sourced ingredients from the Kagawa Prefecture, right down to the miso, salt, and soy sauce.

To unwind, guests can head to Roka’s café-bar Moya that serves up signature house-made herbal infusions targeting what guests need — energising, relaxing, beautifying, or detoxifying. Moya serves lunch and after-dinner drinks late into the night, in fact, it is the only venue on the island that stays open past 9pm.

Other spaces that guests can explore within Roka include the Muryoraku-an Firepit for guests to socialise around the warm fire outdoors at night with others and the Sanshi-suimei Garden featuring a diversity of botanicals including edible plants and fruits.

Guests can enjoy the sight of seasonal fresh flowers adorning the spaces within the ryokan every day, which serves as an homage to the original Kifu no Sato ryokan that Sasaki’s ancestors started centuries ago where Sasaki’s great-great grandfather would personally practice the art of Japanese flower arrangement (ikebana) daily to further enhance the atmosphere of the place.

The fire pit is situated between the guest suites and the restaurant offering an ideal place for visitors, residents, and artists to relax together.
The fire pit is situated between the guest suites and the restaurant offering an ideal place for visitors, residents, and artists to relax together.

As a well-regarded member under The Ryokan Collection, the world’s first consortium of luxury ryokans, Hiroki Fukunaga, founder and CEO of The Ryokan Collection believes that Roka will become a new icon of Naoshima with the large number of international enquiries and new bookings that Roka has been receiving despite Japan’s relatively shuttered borders.

“With its characteristic aspect, Roka will keep working on featuring up-and-coming artists, artworks that are not yet on the market will be exhibited in all guestrooms, restaurants, lounges, etc., providing art lovers worldwide with "a ryokan to meet unseen talents".

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